‘Batman v Superman’ is surprisingly entertaining (B-)

2568845-aI went into “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” with the lowest of expectations. I found “Man of Steel” to be ultimately boring and was not excited that that film and the Zack Snyder tone was going to be the building blocks on which a DC cinematic world was to be based. Each released preview of “Dawn of Justice” made me have less and less hope, and by the time I went into the movie theater, the best I was hoping for was to watch something to make fun of.

However, this film was actually very entertaining. Every 10 minutes I assessed my feelings, and every time I was shocked that I wasn’t hate-watching this movie. That does not mean that this was a perfect film. There is a lot to nitpick about. The plot only kind of makes sense, there are way too many dream sequences and Oscar-nominee Amy Adams has nothing to do in this film.

The movie also feels both too long and too short. There are so many different plot threads that it seems like they weren’t sure what movie to make, so they decided to just make all of them. There seems to be a good “Man of Steel” sequel movie in there, as well as a decent Batman reboot and Justice League prologue. The problem is that none are able to have enough time to be satisfying.

The same thing happened with “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” It’s par for the course with movies that are made to forward a cinematic universe, but this film makes much more interesting storytelling choices than those films so that even when they don’t work, they are at least fun to watch.

This film introduces one of the best cinematic Batman we’ve ever seen, with Ben Affleck being able to make Bruce Wayne feel like an actual person who has grown obsessed after his parent’s death. Affleck has just the right mix of smarts and insanity to make Batman work as a character.

Henry Cavill was fine as Superman in “Man of Steel,” but here his character is able to deepen and grow into more of the hero we know. This film is able to at least grapple more with the idea that Superman is an outsider who has to decide whether to be a hero or god.

Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor is unlike any Luthor seen before, and will probably be the most divisive performance of the film. I found him to be great in the role and his weird ticks really added to the idea that Lex always has a plan, but that the plan could change any moment.

One of the most exciting aspects of the film was the cinematic debut of Wonder Woman and this film does her justice. Gal Gadot is great in the role, and though she only has about 15 lines in the entire film (I counted), she instantly makes the idea of a solo Wonder Woman film a success.

Other standouts are Laurence Fishburne as Clark’s boss Perry White and Jeremy Irons as a Alfred who has grown snarky after a lifetime of taking care of Bruce.

Snyder’s skill with visual storytelling led to a couple of spectacular Batman sequences and a Batman/Superman battle worthy of being the title fight. Snyder’s lack of storytelling finesse does rear it’s head when Batman and Superman obviously have to team up but, unlike in “Man of Steel,” that final sequence doesn’t have to last more than 10 minutes.

Before this film, I wasn’t at all excited about a future Justice League and although I can find a lot of faults with the film, I’m now looking forward to seeing more adventures with Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, ect. So if these type of movies are now just trailers for future films, this one at the very least does its job.

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‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ brings the heart in television’s first great musical (A)

20-fall-preview-tv-crazy-ex-girlfriend-w750-h560-2x“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” has had a lot going against it. Between it being on the CW, having an ironic title and unequivocally being a full-blown musical, it shouldn’t still be on the air.

But if this show is for you, it will instantly be one of your favorite shows on television. The songs are phenomenally funny and real at the same time. My favorites are “The Sexy Getting Ready Song,” where our main character, Rebecca, sings about how women prepare for a date, and “Settle for Me,” a love song where a guy asked a girl to give up on her crush and date him instead.

Also, the characters have been fully formed and relatable from the first episode. You have Rebecca, the lawyer who is finally trying to be happy in her life; Josh, an Asian former jock who sees the best in everyone; Greg, a bartender who desperately wants to leave West Covina but can’t find a way to do it; and Paula, who lives vicariously through Rebecca instead of focusing on her own family.

The show has been able to tackle sexism, mental health, bisexuality and modern dating in its first 14 episodes. It has also created the most balanced love triangle in the history of television, where both of the guys make Rebecca a better human being in different ways.

The show has always been on the bubble and may not be renewed, but for now it is great television. Only the past few episodes are streaming, but if you have a way to catch up, I highly recommend it. If you can’t, go to YouTube and listen to the songs over and over again until the show is available on Netflix or DVD.

‘Deadpool’ brings new sense of humor to the superhero formula (A-)

deadpool-gallery-03-gallery-imageDeadpool is a Marvel character fans have been waiting to see star on the big screen for a long time. He is known for being dark, raunchy and talking directly to the audience. These are not the traits of a usual superhero, and they are what make this an interesting and enjoyable film.

Ryan Reynolds was practically born to play this part and will be as connected to this character as Robert Downey Jr. is to Iron Man or Hugh Jackman is to Wolverine. Reynolds is able to find that right mix of inherent likability, raunchiness and emotional heft that rockets Deadpool into the top tier of movie superheroes.

“Deadpool” does have to go through the normal Marvel origin-story tropes, but the movie is able to put a nice spin on most of them so it isn’t as noticeable or egregious as, say, “The Amazing Spider-Man.” The origin of the character is told through a series of flashbacks so that the movie’s driving revenge story can start right at the beginning.

And playing the hero’s rescuable girlfriend (i.e. Gwyneth Paltrow from “Iron Man” or Natalie Portman from “Thor”) is Morena Baccarin, who is really fantastic in this. She brings such emotional depth to her character, Vanessa, that the audience actually cares about her and Reynolds’ relationship maybe even more than the action scenes.

Other highlights include T.J. Miller (Silicon Valley) as the comedic-relief bartender and “X-Men” characters Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, who provide the (largely ignored) moral center for the film.

If I were being picky, the villain does fall into the Marvel-villain trap of being completely uninteresting, and it does take the movie a bit to truly find its groove, but overall it does the character justice and its success should be the key for more adult superhero films to be made in the future.

In defense of my favorite horror movie, ‘Scream 4’

I am not a horror fan. I don’t get the appeal of getting scared. However, there are some horror movies that I love. They have to be more than just pure horror (I will never watch “The Human Centipede”). So I enjoy sci-fi horror films like “The Terminator” and “Alien” and horror comedies like “Scream.”Scre4m.jpg

The “Scream” series is an interesting one. There is the first film that is able to be both a perfect slasher film and a great satire of the genre. The second two are also good, with “Scream 2” going to college, and “Scream 3” going meta inside a movie set. But it is “Scream 4” that holds a place in my heart.

“Scream 4” goes back to the high school from the first movie 10 years later. The movie follows Sidney Prescott (aka Neve Campbell) and her niece Jill Roberts (played by Emma Roberts.) The characters we know and love from the first three films are back, but we are also introduced to a new crop of doomed teenagers through Jill’s group of friends.

So yes, it sounds like a retread, but it shows how flexible the slasher tropes really are, and gives great twists to all of them. The opening sequences is not one, but three scenes of famous young actresses facing Ghostface and each one is more ridiculous and shocking than the last. Hayden Panettiere (who is by far the stand out of the cast) fills the “slutty friend” role but slowly is revealed as the true horror expert.

And when [SPOILER ALERT, SERIOUSLY I AM GOING TO REVEAL THE KILLER] the mastermind is shown to be Emma Roberts’ character, we see our assumed protagonist have the greatest evil turn in the history of cinema. Seriously, stop what you are doing and watch this YouTube video (https://youtu.be/j6VN8i1K6ZM). And after she’s the ‘final girl,’ she has to fake her injuries. It’s amazing.

Honestly, the twist at the end makes the movie thematically interesting and is the best example of a modern slasher film that I can think of. Here’s a girl who wants to be the final survivor to become famous, and she will do anything to get there. Emma Roberts, who at the time was most known for “Nancy Drew,” sells both sides of the character masterfully, and the deaths range from funny to intense to actually emotional. It’s a perfect capper to an amazing series, and it shows the brilliance that was Wes Craven in his last directorial film.

It’s as sharp and witty as the old slasher classics, but has been forgotten because it’s a sequel that didn’t really perform well at the box office. And while “Scream” was able to put a twist on slasher films, “Scream 4” had the harder task of putting a twist on the “Scream” franchise. I believe it did that masterfully, and I would be happy to lend any of you my DVD copy.

Let me know if you’re a fellow “Scream 4” fan at @jay4ness, because I honestly don’t know anyone else that is.

Why you should watch ‘The Flash’

I would like to recommend a little show on the CW called “The Flash.” For those of you who don’t know, Flash is a DC Comics character who can run faster than anyone else on the planet (yes, even faster than Superman). The TV show is also a spin-off of the much darker “Arrow.”

It has just started its second season, and is definitely the show I most look forward to watching every week. The main reason I recommend it to you all is that the show is just plain fun. Yes, there is the dramatic hero backstory, but the characters joke around and the villains can be goofy. It is pure popcorn television, but done in the best possible way.

At the center of the show is Barry Allen, a 20-something forensic scientist working for the local police department. One day he is struck by lightning, goes into a coma and when he wakes up he has super speed. By Barry’s side, you have Cisco Ramon and Caitlin Snow as both the comedic relief and emotional heart. And I haven’t even mentioned that “The Flash” has one of the best father/son relationships with Barry and his surrogate father, Joe.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, there has been a rampaging talking gorilla, time travel, a villain called Captain Cold and an alternate dimension. It’s a great show. The first season is now on Netflix and the first three episodes of season two are on Hulu.

Game of Thrones Episode 501 Recap

Okay guys. This is my first recap for an episode of television, so be kind. I did it by character, not by how it aired in the episode, as that isn’t always important with Game of Thrones. Also I haven’t read the books, so no book spoilers here. Enjoy.

Cersei

Screenshot 2015-04-16 18.29.10This season started off with a flashback of two pre-teen girls, one of whom is a slightly-less-pissed-at-the-world Cersei, in the middle of the forest. Cersei leads the two into a creepy-looking cabin with an emo witch. Cersei, always thinking she is smarter than she is, asks the witch to tell of her future. The witch warns the will-be queen that “Everybody wants to know their future, until they know their future.”  Cersei pushes and the witch tells her that (1) she won’t marry Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, (2) that she will still be a queen “for a time” and that another younger girl (Margery or Dany?) will cast her down and take everything Cersei holds dear, and (3) that the king would have 20 children, Cersei would have three with “gold crowns” and that “gold would be their shrouds.”

When the flashback ended, my first thought was ‘really… just that.’ We had gone four full seasons without a flashback, and then this is what they chose? We knew that Cersei wouldn’t marry Rhaegar, we knew that Cersei would have three Lannister children and we knew that at least one of them dies young (RIP you little bastard.) But then we zoomed to present time. Continue reading

Oscars: Boyhood please win best picture

If Boyhood doesn’t win Best Picture tomorrow, I will be really disappointed. I know, it’s just an award and awards don’t matter. But the Academy Award for Best Picture sets the tone of what makes a film great.

“Boyhood” is the reason film isn’t a dying art. “Boyhood” is the epitome of what films can do that no other medium can. You go into that film looking at life one way, and you leave having new perspective. It is an emotional movie about life and growing up and is universal in a way that so few films are.

For instance, there is a scene towards the end of the movie where the titular boy, Mason, is leaving home for college and his mom (played by future Academy Award Winner Patricia Arquette) speaks about how time passes you by. I watched this movie with my family and my mom started to cry, while my younger sister and I started laughing. There is no other scene I can think of that felt as real and truthful.

Sure it’s not the best crafted movie ever. It’s not the best shot, Ellar Coltrane isn’t the greatest actor and there isn’t even a score. But it doesn’t matter. The film is just that moving. I love some of the other nominees. Birdman is maybe the most ambitious films in years and Whiplash is one of the best scripts, but Boyhood is why I go to the movies.

I want movies to affect me, and I think about scenes in Boyhood constantly since I watched it months ago. Just watch this trailer and tell me you don’t get slightly teary eyed.